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87 posts categorized "Danielle Brandts"

Visiting Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya is one of those places that is on the to-do list but can easily get pushed aside for another more elusive weekend trip. One reason I've heard a couple times is since it's so close to Bangkok--a travel base for many people--it's really easy to just say "Oh that's just a day trip, I can do that ANY time" and opt for a more ~once in a life time~ weekend activity. But what isn't once in a life time about a beautiful city of ruined temples?

Here you can see Joey walking around the ruins of Wat Phra Ram  


Which is why it actually took us a while to decide to finally do this trip. But I'm really glad I did and it was one of my favorite weekends in Thailand thus far.

Joey and I took a mini-bus from one of the stations outside of Victory Monument BTS (about 60 baht each) and were shuttled off to Ayutthaya within a half hour. Apparently it's a common scam that they try to drop you off a few blocks away from the bus station and claim it's the "last stop" but it's not. Tuk tuk drivers wait around like vultures with laminated photo cards of popular tourist destinations. We just brushed them away and walked the 10 minutes to our hostel but it definitely would have been possible to just refuse to get off the bus and demand to be taken to the bus station (where they are supposed to be taking you anyway.) 

I highly recommend renting a motorbike (and bringing an actual passport in order to rent it!) It's not difficult to maneuver (or eventually get the hang of, at least) and you suddenly have a ton of options for when and where you want to visit sights by not being bound to tuk tuks and taxis. Ayutthaya is an island and you have to go on a medium size freeway overpass bridgey thing to get to the sites outside of town, requiring motorbike or tuk tuk. Bicycles are always an option if you can't stomach a motorbike but it IS hot and spread out (plus driving in Ayutthaya is much more mellow in comparison to that of Chiang Mai or Bangkok. By a lot. So don't let being afraid hold you back.) 

Traffic isn't the only thing that's more mellow about Ayutthaya! The temples are definitely the main reason people visit the once glorious capital of Siam, and it's evident in the lack of nightlife and foodie establishments. That's not to say that there aren't bars and delicious food because there totally are. I just wouldn't plan a weekend around it.  I did get an amazing bowl of boat noodles at Lex Noodles near Wat Mahathat (pretty much in the center of Ayutthaya) and a great cappuccino and espresso nearby at Malakor café which was really reasonably priced at about two dollars for coffee and a piece of toast with a choice of toppings (chocolate, peanut butter, or condensed milk, etc.) Down the road there is a cute little night market in the center of the main island. 

Rice Noodles with Pork. MMMMMMmmmm 


Night Market at Ayutthaya: a smallish market but great snacks! 


I'm going to fill the rest of this blog with pictures to hopefully encourage you to take a day or two to visit. I definitely recommend staying one night so you don't attempt to cram a ton of stuff into one day. One night and a 24 hour motorbike rental was easily less than 1000 baht, split between two people and you basically have no excuse to not go (although keep in mind though it IS 50 baht entrance fee to almost every temple; in my opinion, totally worth it. No complaints here).

If you can spend just a day in Ayutthaya be sure to check out at the very least Wat Chai Wattaram, Wat Phra Si Sanpet, and Wat Mahathat. Probably my favorites of the day, though I really enjoyed the simple (relatively, of course) but beautiful Wat Phra Ram and more active Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. 

From Wat Mahathat in central Ayutthaya. Sandstone Buddha engulfed in tree! Most photographed sight in Ayutthaya. No one is sure how it got to be there, some people say it was too heavy to be carried away by temple-looting thieves, so they left it! Mother nature obviously did the rest.
Wat Chai Wattanaram in the mid-morning sun
Wat Chai Wattanaram--a glorious panoramic river view from the top!
Two of the dozens of different styles of seated Buddhas from Wat Chai Wattanaram. The four corners of the temple's surrounding walls housed big Buddhas like these. (And also a lot of pigeons.)
Pretty details from base of seated Buddha at Wat Chai Wattanaram 
Woman showing respect by the toes of a large reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol. People buy and place tiny bits of gold leaf over some Buddhas. 
Offering for a white washed Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Someone making an offering of gold leaf to one of four or five seated Buddhas in the of Wat Yai Chai Mongkol
Sure there are Buddhas everywhere but we all know who really runs this place...


Ruins at Wat Phra Si Sanpet


Three pagodas at Wat Phra Si Sanpet


Joey and I practicing our selfie game at Wat Mahathat

Until next time!

Notes on Coming Full Circle

Well. The time has come.

I'm home. Not Thailand home. Not even Maine home. Home home. Instead of walking through the gritty streets and sweltering heat that I have grown to love, I am now surrounded by soybean planting, lawn mowing and more rainy days than I would care for.  I have to drive my car to and fro, and I can't afford to fill my tank. I miss sticky rice, pad phak jay, and yes, even my corner 7/11 store. I find myself instinctively wai-ing when saying thank-you, which people find either amusing or just plain awkward.

Cartoon doing the Thai wai

It has been a month since my triumphant return to the Minnesota River Valley. Living with my family again for the first time in four years has been a culture shock in and of itself. Hearing only my mother tongue has been more difficult to get used to than it has in the past. My sense of anonymity has been replaced by a constant fear of running into people and forced into small talk - a conversational talent which now eludes me. 

    "Stayin' out of trouble?"

    "Tryin' to!"

    "Say, where were you again?"

    "I was in Thailand. It sure was hot over there!!"

    "So, I bet you can speak Taiwanese now, right?"

   (shift awkwardly, trying to come up with a tactful answer)  "Not as much as I'd like, but I a little!"

    "Well, welcome home. You haven't changed a bit!"

The conversation usually comes to a grinding halt right there, but I hope that I am becoming more graceful handling such situations. Thankfully, I've come to realize “not changing a bit” is, for the most part, meant as a compliment. Hey - maybe I still look like a fresh faced 23 year-old right out of college! Nah - that can't be it. Maybe I've been away from home (home home) too long, and now I'm having trouble reconnecting. That’s certainly possible.

What I’d LIKE to think though, is that although I've grown and evolved during my year away, I think that I've been able to retain much of what makes me ‘me’...whatever THAT is. And that's what I'm hoping my long lost pals have been noticing. And at the end of the cold, rainy and socially awkward day, that’s really not such a bad deal after all.

As for the small talk, I’m sure I’ll be Chatty Cathy again before we know it. Let’s all just appreciate the silence for now. ;)

It's never quiet with these two ladies around...IMG_0886[1]


Vietnam in 5 Pictures or Less.

Subtitled - Danielle's Visa Expires

What to do when one's visa runs out? Flee the country as quickly as possible in search of coffee and baguettes. I mean, in search of culture and interesting people... :)

Done and done.

 1.) Charming Hoi An. Warning : you will get sucked in by the tailors. Mr. Xe rocked my incredibly unfashionable world.


2.) Me at the beach? Get out.


3.) Easy Rider tour in Dalat with my guide, Eagle. Rain = polka dotted ponchos.

For anyone interested in history and current events, get in touch with my guy, Eagle. His experiences and knowledge are extraordinary. I did two days of tours with him. Fab. Shoot me a message, and I'd be happy to forward his contact info if you're interested.


4.)  A bit of everything in Hanoi. Cathedral, traffic, motorbikes, locals enjoying a snack


5.) What's a visit to Vietnam without Halong Bay? Despite less than perfect weather, I guarantee we made the most of the evening on Hanoi Backpackers' Hostel's tour. Dance party til dawn? Foshizzle!

FYI - it's an awesome tour if you're traveling on your own. Actually, the hostel itself (go to the new one on Ma May) is pretty much awesome, too.



The Brandts Family Grocery List

As I'm nearing the end of my time here in Thailand, I've finally allowed myself the luxury of looking forward to the things (and by things, I mean, food) that I've regularly missed [eating] over the last 10 months. I've [hungrily] compiled a list of items that will make me happy [and overweight] upon my homecoming.  And Kevin, we have a Panera date. Your treat. Thanks.

  • Grilled pork chops with creamed corn and mashed/scalloped potatoes.
  • Cheese. Goat.
  • Macaroni & cheese and pork 'n beans. Yummmmm.
  • Honey Bunches of Oats (the gold box).
  • Wine. Red.
  • Gallon after gallon of milk.
  • Potatoes. In any form.
  • Panera Bread's chocolate chip bagels and brocolli cheese soup.
  • Cheese. Brie.
  • Grandma's meatloaf with red cabbage and boiled potatoes.
  • Caribou Coffee's free refills.
  • Brunch. Bloody Marys at brunch.
  • Cheese. Mozzarella.
  • Grandma's cream of wheat pudding.
  • Pork. Home grown. In any form.
  • Tator Tot hotdish.
  • Apple turnovers.
  • Wine. White.
  • Did I mention cheese?     

ACS Festival of Cheese - the Cheddars

Yes, I have one, and no you can't see it.

I went to the Chang again this weekend for multiple reasons: 1) to hang out with my pal Allie and meet some of her coolio friends. Check. 2) to lie on a beach, not shower for three days, and pretend I'm a hippie. Check. 3) to get a bamboo tattoo. Check and check.

While my father's jaw is hitting the keyboard, I'd like to fill the rest of you in on the history of bamboo tattoos. Thanks to the The Bamboo Rooms, here is a quick rundown:

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of Bamboo Tattoo Art as the practice is so old the history is almost lost, being tied up with myth and legend. Many countries in South East Asia lay claim to be the birthplace of this ancient art form. However, it is generally believed to have originated in the Khmer period around 3000 years ago. There have been mummies found in the Philippines with bamboo tattoos still visible, block bands around the calf with tribal hierarchy significance.

In Thailand, bamboo tattooing began in the Buddhist temples, with monks receiving religious text tattoos from grand master monks for protection. Throughout periods of conflict in Thailand, soldiers would visit temples to be tattooed by the monks with spells for such things as protection, strength or invisibility. One Thai legend states that Thailand has never been occupied as the Thai soldiers are warrior ghosts who cannot be seen or killed by the enemy due to their protective tattoos.

In Thailand, nearly all Buddhist men become monks at some point in their lives to better understand their complex religion. During this time they are tattooed with religious texts to show the strength of their faith. Despite these deeply religious origins, tattoos are not currently mainstream in Thailand and largely seen, as historically in western culture, to be popular amongst criminals. This has only recently begun to change but nevertheless the art of bamboo tattooing is dying out with prevalence of learning to tattoo with a machine as it is easier to learn.

Not sure who this guy is, but I like the chill vibe goin' on.Bamboo Tattoo Day

After months of deliberation and two failed attempts, finally, success! Day of arrival, I went to a well known place on the island and was able to pass over the threshold with only a mild anxiety attack. Two hours, one large beer, and a whole lot more pain than I expected later, it was done. And I love it!

Now, I know what you may be thinking - what is it?! For the time being, I don't really feel the need to post pics of it online, but I'll show it to y'all in person in the near future. For those of you who won't have the pleasure of viewing my torso up close and personal, I've answered a few imaginary questions for curiosity's sake:

#1) Imaginary Interviewer: So, where is it? Danielle: It's on my left side.

#2) II: Did it hurt? Danielle: I think I was doing lamaze through the entire thing.

#3) II: Did you get "mai pen rai"? Danielle: No. No and no. Next question.

#4) II: Does it represent Thailand? Danielle: Not necessarily. I wanted a bamboo tattoo instead of a machine tattoo, but as for the background, it's more of a personal thing. Therefore, it is neither in Thai nor is it a traditional symbol of Thailand. Though maybe the next one...(kidding, Dad!).

#5) II: So what is it?? Danielle: It's a verse of a song, in a freestyle sort of script. 

#6) II: Are you happy you got it? Danielle: Very!

#7) II: Can I see it? Danielle: No.

#8) II: But whyyyyy?! Danielle: Shut up.

Thanks a million to Allie and Allison for stickin' it out the whole time, distracting me, feeding me beer, and everything in between. Cheers, ladies. Couldn't have done it without you.

And don't forget to check out the facebook page for The One Tattoo. His father tattooed Angelina Jolie. During some of my lamaze moments, I channeled my "inner Angelina". Hey, whatever gets you through the day, right?


It's ok, Mom. I'm saving myself for marriage.

As the sex education debate in America continues*, those of us out of our comfort zone are, well...perhaps seeking some comfort across the globe.

Couple Holding Hands

Since "humankind's most basic drive" extends beyond borders, and because I've received a few related questions, I wanted to put together some helpful "girly" information for current and future travelers to Thailand. And really, for all of [wo]mankind. Boys, you can read it too.

1.) Birth control pills. As a general rule, birth control pills in the US are expensive. Not only do you need to get that handy dandy prescription from your doc, but if you use insurance, you may not be able to stock up in advance. In Thailand, it's a tad easier. Pharmacies carry birth control pills, and you can purchase it over the counter without a prescription.

Can you taste the freedom??

There is a broad price range, but they are much cheaper than at home. My fave store, Boots, carries Yaz (the most expensive), as well as many other brands, and they often have an English speaking pharmacist if you have questions. If you want a pill similar to what you get at home, write down the name of the brand, the manufacturer, and the quantities of hormones in the pills. Ask the pharmacist for some help, buy out the store, and head home with a renewed peace of mind. :)

2.) PlanB or the Morning-After Pill. Also available in Thailand, and also much cheaper and easier to obtain than in the US. Again, Boots and other pharmacies sell it over the counter. If you go to a Thai pharmacy and run into some language barriers, ask for the brand name "Madonna". And remember, neither birth control nor morning-after pills offer protection against STIs, so, make sure to use....

3.) Condoms! As if this hasn't been drilled into our heads since those awkward pubescent days in health class (where I kept misreading the text and saying "public", instead of well, you know. Sorry Mrs. Esher). Condoms can be purchased almost anywhere (even our fave 7/11), but guys (and girls!), if you purchase condoms here, make sure to, um...take a test drive. I've heard some awkward tales, because, uh...the condom didn't really fit their needs. *cough*

If you're low on funds, the infamous Cabbages and Condoms hands out 'after dinner condoms'.  Strawberry flavored. So I hear.

sex education graffiti                        

Because condoms have been used for at least 400 years (and because I'm such a huge geek), I've compiled some intriguing condom facts (with the help of Wikipedia):

a. In China, glans condoms may have been made of oiled silk paper or lamb intestines.   

b. In Japan, they were made of tortoise shells or animal horns (ouch!!). 

c. In the late 15th century, Dutch traders introduced condoms made from "fine leather" to Japan. Unlike the horn condoms used previously, these leather condoms covered the entire penis (love those Dutch).

d. Casanova in the 18th century was one of the first reported using "assurance caps" to prevent impregnating his mistresses (I believe it was an orange peel...).

e. The first rubber condom was produced in 1855. The earliest rubber condoms had a seam and were as thick as a bicycle inner tube.

f. Until the twenties, all condoms were individually hand-dipped by semiskilled workers.

4.) Pregnancy tests. Also, available at pharmacies. If you can't find one, you may have to ask the pharmacist for help.

I hope this information (and the history tidbits!) is helpful and makes things a little less stressful... As if moving to another country isn't stressful enough. Questions/concerns/comments - feel free to send them my way! NOTHING embarrasses me. True story.

Remember, Smokey the Bear says, "Only YOU can prevent unplanned pregnancies!".

Wait. That's not it...

*As a sidenote and shoutout to my former roomie and to an amazing organization, please help support Planned Parenthood. Stand Against Efforts to Defund Planned Parenthood


Social Networking/Online Chatting = Yay or Nay?

For anyone who knows me and is friends with me on Facebook, SKYPE, MSN, or even G-chat, you may have noticed that for the last 8 months, I've rarely been found "online". Yep, I'm invisible on purpose. 

People think I'm weird. Here and at home. "Why do you send me messages instead of just chatting?". "Why are you always invisible - I KNOW you're there!"

It took me bit to figure it out. It's certainly not because I'm here in Thailand, having such an awesome time that I don't have time to keep up with people. And it's not that I've changed so much that I don't have anything in common with my peeps (ok, maybe a little bit). But it is also just changes in lifestyle and changes in the way I choose to maintain communciation with the people who are important to me. 

 1.) I've learned to do without instant gratification (kinda). Want groceries? It's gonna be a journey - hope you've got some extra time to go get your DoubleStuf Oreos (or a pal named Allie to buy you some - holla!!). Want to go somewhere for the weekend? Expect at least 5-6 forms of transportation and a minimum of 12 hours of travel, including at least one death-defying bus ride. If I'm willing to hold out for those D'Stufs and spend more time in a freezing bus than on the beach, then I'm definitely willing to wait it out for a friend's message. Whenever it may come. Which leads me to...


2.)  I'm an email whore. It's not that I'm not keeping in touch with people who are important to me. I just prefer the more time consuming, thoughtfully written email (or better yet, letter!!). Someone took the time to write an email, and even bothered to check punctuation and spelling. Yay!! And in my predictable fashion - I write them, too. Long, rambling emails seem to be my forté - apologies to my friends who hate that. You know who are. And I won't be offended if you don't respond.

3.) Facebook Fatigue. This article is AMAZING. Read it. How Facebook Can Ruin Your Friendships (I'm backing the idea of "Get Facebook to Create an Eye-Roll Button Now!"). Not only is Facebook itself getting on my nerves, it makes me not want to sign onto anything online, ever:

One of the big problems is how we converse. Typing still leaves something to be desired as a communication tool; it lacks the nuances that can be expressed by body language and voice inflection.

Regarding social media in general, Christine Garvin says, "The interesting thing is, I don’t believe we think often enough about the implications of all the 'fun' and seemingly 'connective' technology in our life – how the faster this technology gets, the more it takes us outside of ourselves." - Social Media Hangovers: Disconnecting to Connect. Amen.

Social Networking Fatigue

And just as a talking point - is anyone else out there tired of wedding and/or baby updates on Facebook? No? Guess it's just me then.

4.) It can be awkward. After being away for an extended period of time, chatting became time consuming and frustrating for me. Conversations didn't flow as easily as they once did (even just online), and it became a chore to keep up. And I always felt like I had to keep up. I thought, if a friend was trying to converse over Facebook or chat, shouldn't I want to participate? Not necessarily.

So, I don't. Facebook = offline. Gchat = invisible. SKYPE = I don't even sign on anymore (sorry, Mom - but I appreciate your emails!). It allows me more time to appreciate life in Bang Saen, and it also means that I am looking forward to calling friends during unlimited nights and weekends and/or visiting and playing catch up once I'm back home again.

Am I worried that things are sometimes awkward? Surprisingly - no. People change. And just because things may be awkward online right now, that doesn't mean it will be that way forever. But if they are, thankfully, in my almost 27 years (gulp), I've finally learned to accept change with a little bit of grace (I hope). It's just a part of life. And as always, MatadorNetwork writer Theodore Scott puts it best:

"You don’t have to stay friends with everyone with whom you used to hang out...Say “Hi” when you see old friends on the street, and don’t worry about growing apart. You are a different person now, and so are they."


A Bit of Culture - "mit kleinem k"*

*dedicated to none other than the great Herr Professor Ludwig (or "HPL" for short) of Gustavus Adolphus College

With the recent opportunities for travel, as well as the busyness of the past few months, I realized that cultural posts have been lacking as of late. I also felt a tad culturally encouraged when Moira eagerly absorbed my random trivial outbursts last week, sans annoyance...I think.  ("see all the people in the pink shirts?", "no, you don't need a knife - just eat like this"...)

That being said, the topic of today's post is...Spirit Houses!! What are they?

A spirit house is a shrine to the protective spirit of a place  that are found in the Southeast Asian countries of Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand.  Most houses and businesses have a spirit house placed in an auspicious spot, most often in a corner of the property. The location may be chosen after consultation with a Brahmin priest. The spirit house is normally in the form of a miniature house or temple, and is mounted on a pillar or on a dais. The house is intended to provide a shelter for spirits which could cause problems for the people if not appeased.

Spirit House

Spirit Houses have intrigued me since my arrival in Thailand. I'm not really sure why - maybe it's because it involves belief in spirits, or it could also be because they are tiny. It is also DEFINITELY because Red Fanta seems to be a favorite among the spirits (don't you wanna). Why? I have absolutely no idea, but writer Peter Dickinson gives us this:

Because the spirits (Phra phum) prefer it. Because it is a favourite drink of the King of Thailand. In truth nobody really seems to have a definitive answer. People I have spoken to who claim to have seen the spirits say that are red in colour so this may be an explanation. Mind you they may have only got that way from from drinking too much Red Fanta (Nam Dang - Red Water). What they drank before Red Fanta arrived on the Thai market is anybody's guess.

To give you an idea of how commonplace spirit houses are, today I counted how many I saw on my four minute bike ride to school. The grand total = 10. And that is counting only those I could see from the street as I whizzed past on my tween-sized boys' mountain bike. In a skirt. Who knows how many I'd notice if I wasn't also trying to keep my skirt from flappin' in the breeze? :)



Dijon --> Boston --> Bangkok

I met Moira, or should I say, Moira met me, while I was passed out in our room while some tennis tournament blared on the television. The setting: City Loft Hotel, Dijon, France, circa 2005. I think our meeting went something like this:

Door opens. Me: "wha?? hello?" Moira: "I'm sorry! Go back to sleep!" sees the television. "Wait - do you play tennis?" (she played in college). Me: "No, I just wish that I did." *zonk*

So began our adventures studying and living in Dijon, France, where we would study business and French, eat unreal amounts of baked goods and pastries, drink gallons of wine and crème de cassis (a Dijon specialty), and gain more weight than ever imagined. A mere two years later, I up and moved to Boston, where Moira literally worked down the street from where I lived. We had a joyous reunion, and as Moira is New England born-and-bred, she happily introduced me to her love of Boston and of Cambridge.

On a tour of Harvard, Summer 2007                                

As you know, I no longer live in New England, so I wasn't sure when we would have the chance to reconnect again. Imagine my excitement when I received an email from Moira, saying that she was embarking on a school trip to Thailand in January. Now it was my turn to introduce my love of Thailand to my New England friend. Yay! And introduce I did.

Moira's ready to go.IMG_0080 

We met at her fancy hotel downtown, where I treated myself to a nostalgia-inducing Malbec at the bar. After a visit to the local whiskey bars and a marathon catch-up session, we slept in and indulged ourselves for breakfast, Sex and the City style, at a 24-hour cafe (croissants all around - France throwback!). After satisfactorily Frenchifying ourselves, we went straight to the ferry and on to Wat Pho, which was then followed by a relaxing afternoon by the river with coconuts. 

Lovely coconut pic 

After even more snacks on the river, we tuk-tuked it over to Khao San Road for some shopping and some [more] cheap snacks. There was a lady selling donuts for 15baht. I had two. And I wasn't even hungry. I'm definitely my father's daughter.

Donuts again  

We ferried it back to meet her friends for dinner at the fab Cabbages and Condoms. We were up mega early for Moira's flight back to the States, but not before our second Sex and the City inspired breakfast. I think our time revolved around eating, drinking coffee, catching up, shopping, and a bit of Bangkok sightseeing here and there. It was perfection. :)

Always use protection! Cabbages and condoms 


In 5 Pictures or Less - Bali

Ok. Exactly five. Enjoy!

Bike rides and rice fields

Traditional dancing - Ubud

Tirta Empul - Spring Water Temple

Balangan Beach

Classy in Kuta